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Pence still humbled, relishing large behind-the-scenes role

On Election Day in November, then-Gov. Mike Pence rode his bicycle around his neighborhood in Indianapolis with his wife Karen.

It’s a passion of his and an activity that the now-vice president indulged in during a recent vacation in April with his family on Sanibel Island, the first break he’s had since Inauguration Day.

Pence now finds himself in one of the busiest roles in Washington. He’s at the President’s side during visits by foreign heads of state. He’s omnipresent during executive order signings, standing quietly in the background. He was in the Situation Room during the Syrian missile launch. He was personally calling members of Congress during the health care repeal-and-replace push that the administration failed to pass in the House of Representatives ahead of the 100-day mark.

Longtime aides to the vice president describe him as a calm, measured voice inside the West Wing. “He brings stability and a consistently clear message to the White House,” one adviser says. In a White House swirling with internal feuds, Pence is free of drama.

Pence has been an integral part in selling the administration’s agenda. Four weekends in a row between March and April, Pence hit the road, traveling to West Virginia, Ohio and Florida while President Donald Trump spent time at his various golf courses.

“The role of the vice president is one hundred percent decided by the President,” says a spokesman for Pence’s office.

Another adviser to Pence says he is the consummate “foot soldier” for the President. He and his team knew they were signing up for the number two slot when they joined the ticket, well aware of the work that would be in their job descriptions, the source added.

The vice president is perhaps the most important liaison in the West Wing for Capitol Hill. An aide says he speaks with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky “multiple times a week.”

After the health care bill imploded at the end of March, the former Indiana congressman was “frustrated” and “disappointed,” but he’s focusing on the administration’s pivot to other items on its agenda, a source said.

“The vice president is still trusted to negotiate with Congress. The entire team learned lessons from that and applied then to the future,” the adviser said.

One senior Republican aide on Capitol Hill says of Pence, “He’s been incredibly involved in working with Congress, more so than any other senior administration official. It’s not surprising to see his entourage walking the halls.” The aide added that the vice president certainly uses the House side office he has in the Capitol.

As for his standing in the Oval Office, people close to the vice president say that his opinion matters.

“He’s right up there as high as anyone else in the central circle,” said a longtime adviser, adding that Pence would certainly defer to the President in an overall vision for the government, but in implementation, the President trusts his senior people. “The President gives the vice president latitude. He’s not into micro-management.”

That means that Pence has become a trusted representative for Trump on the global stage. While the President himself has yet to travel internationally, the vice president has embarked on two foreign trips within the first 100 days.

During that first foreign trip to Germany in February, Pence visited a former concentration camp. Before a major policy speech during the trip, an aide to the vice president says that the President and vice president spoke for an hour via telephone, crafting the right message and ironing out details of the speech.

And as the 100-day mark closed in, the vice president finished whirlwind, week-and-a-half long trip through Asia, where he visited the demilitarized border zone with North Korea and met with Australian Prime Minister Turnbull.

While the President himself struggles with poor ratings, the lowest of any president at this point in his first term since modern polling began, those close to the veep say that the last six weeks have been “peak Pence.”

“He’s become the most trusted and effective person in the West Wing not named Donald Trump,” a senior administration adviser told CNN.

As for life in the swamp of Washington, those close to the vice president say he is “incredibly happy” at the Naval Observatory residence, where he and his wife Karen are settling in along with their daughter Charlotte. They’ve brought along their cats and bunnies to keep the place homey and frequently entertain for friends, Congressional members and key players from around town, according to one adviser.

“They seem as happy as I’ve seen them,” said a longtime Indiana adviser.